Getting Down with Uptown Liz: Ramona Russell

Something remarkable about this issue’s mover shaker, Ramona Russell, is, if asked, she’d probably attribute the title of such to her sister, Elizabeth Overturf, who passed away at the age of 28 from breast cancer.

“She was so bright … her IQ was at genius level,” Ramona emphatically explains about her sister Liz. “She was so book smart; I swear she would literally answer every question on ‘Jeopardy.’

“And, she was a gourmet cook – by taste. She loved Rachael Ray, The Food Network. She was a fashionista. And she was funny,” Ramona continued. The enthusiasm from Ramona about her sister is engaging, warm, full of life and a bit sad all at the same time.

Liz found a lump in her breast at the young age of 23 and a doctor told her not to worry about it … she was “too young.” But by the age 26, she could no longer walk or get up. A bone scan revealed she had cancer everywhere.

“She died at age 28,” Ramona said. “She was in excruciating pain; her bones were shattering every day.”

Even with the history of the lump, she was still given three different diagnoses by doctors due to the amount of cancer spread throughout her body until she was finally diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, a terminal diagnosis.

While Liz was alive, she had hopes and dreams, much like the rest of us. Ramona wanted to somehow keep a dream or two alive in her sister’s memory. Liz loved to shop; again, much like the rest of us! And her dream was to open a boutique of her own, so Ramona tried to figure out a way to do this for her sister. But the cool thing is, Ramona also wanted to give back to nonprofits and the funding of research for various ailments. And, in her sister’s memory, the shopping Web site “Uptown Liz” was born, a site where consumers shop and nonprofits benefit.

Ramona does all of this for her sister. She and her husband, a Web developer, stayed up night after night to create the site; Ramona Googled products that donate proceeds to organizations (now, companies of such come knocking at her door), and, on Liz’s 30th birthday, July 17, 2007, the “boutique” was officially launched.

“I wanted to show these beautiful, quality products that donate to charity,” Ramona explained as the reasoning behind the choices of merchandise. “I wanted to help the community, make a difference without breaking the bank … and to do it by shopping.”

In talking with Ramona, it becomes slowly apparent it really is out of love, without a current financial motive, but to clarify, we just outright ask her: “So you’re not making any percentage off of anything?”

“No,” she said, as she reiterated her goal of making a difference and honoring her sister. “Maybe down the road, or on advertising space or something, but for right now, it isn’t about that,” Ramona said, with her enthusiasm coming through time and time again. “I do want for this to be my career, so the site does need to make money. But my number one concern is not the money. I could easily be charging the retailers to be listed, but I’m taking my time. I want the site to become very popular and show a true value to everyone before I do that. It would be easy to be greedy, but I’m following my gut on this.

“But this is harder than I thought,” she said of the emotion involved behind putting a site together in her sister’s memory. “I’m a Type-A personality … an ‘everyone out of my way’ personality. So in the beginning, I was task-oriented and got through [the launch].”

But once it was launched: “I get these beautiful e-mails and I find myself crying at my desk as I sit reading these … I didn’t expect that,” she said of the chord it struck within her, catching the Type-A side of hers so off guard.

“This site was done with so much love,” Ramona said. “It is all of her [Liz’s] favorite colors; it was completely designed with her in mind. It is my gift to her and I think she would really like it.”

Ramona developed this site “to build a bridge between compassionate consumers and concerned companies …” as indicated on the bio of the site. Shoppers can pick their purchases one of two ways — searches are available by cause or by product. Items include accessories, food, toddler items, sleepwear and much more, and they benefit Alzheimer’s, animal cruelty, performing arts, world hunger, to name just a few. And, of course, there are products benefiting breast cancer research.

“My sister is the face of breast cancer,” Ramona said. “She found a lump and was told she was too young … no matter what a doctor tells you, keep going until you find answers … seek second opinions … women need to take care of themselves.”

Liz may be the face of breast cancer but she is also the face of Uptown Liz, and she is still a huge part of her sister’s life.

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